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Bible Study: Proper 20 (C) – 2013

September 23, 2013

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

This passage comes from the section of Jeremiah that contains a series of poetic oracles of God’s judgment in the form of conquest and destruction by Babylon, the foe from the north. It is a dialogue between the prophet Jeremiah, God and the people of Israel. It is not always clear who is speaking, and it is quite likely that at times Jeremiah is expressing God’s anguish over the coming destruction of God’s people. God is in despair over the behavior of the people who have forsaken their covenant by worshiping foreign idols. Jeremiah echoes God’s anguish. The people are confused; they expect God to provide for them, yet it seems that He has abandoned them. The well-known verse “Is there no balm in Gilead?” is a rhetorical question. The healing that the people seek can come only from God.

  • Consider the paradox of God’s nature. God longs for peace and healing. At the same time, God longs for justice and truth. A compassionate God weeps for the world that turns away from honesty and integrity. How does this paradox affect your understanding of the disasters in the world and in your life? How does God react to terrible events?
  • The spiritual “There is a balm in Gilead” assumes an answer to the question “Is there no balm in Gilead?” What is the answer, according to the song? How does the poetic imagery of the hymn reflect the poetic imagery of this passage from Jeremiah?

Psalm 79:1-9

Psalm 79 is a lament, or community prayer for help, after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Babylonians. The selection begins with a poetic description of the disaster and laments the seeming absence of God in these events. “We have become a taunt to our neighbors” refers to line 10: “Why should the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’” “Why me?” the psalmist seems to say, as he pleads with God to pour out God’s anger on “the nations that do not know you.” The passage ends with a plea for compassion, help and forgiveness.

  • The Prayers of the People are an example of community intercessory prayer in the Episcopal tradition. You might try re-writing this psalm in one of the forms of the Prayers of the People in the Book of Common Prayer. Or you might write a prayer that addresses a time of disaster or defeat in your own community life, using Psalm 79 as a model.

1 Timothy 2:1-7

First Timothy is one of the pastoral epistles, presented as a letter by Paul to Timothy, who is guiding the community of believers in Ephesus. The pastoral epistles address rules for life in the early Christian community. Paul suggests that Timothy’s community should conform to prevailing social values and live quiet, dignified lives while waiting for Jesus’ return. The writer urges the community to pray for the welfare of the government as a practical way of co-existing in peace with the surrounding dominant community. He supports his position by explaining that God wants everyone to be saved and that salvation is attained through knowledge of the truth of Christ’s sacrifice. Above all, the passage supports the idea that the community must pray, that Christ is the mediator or intercessor and that everyone is worthy of prayer.

  • What are the different aspects of prayer that the writer of First Timothy advocates? Why is it important to pray for those who do not share faith in Jesus as savior? Do you think it is possible to pray with those whose faith does not include belief in Jesus as mediator and teacher?
  • The passage urges Christians to live “a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.” How can such a life witness the character of God and our faith to those around us who may not know anything about the Christian faith? How do these instructions apply to living as faithful Christians in a secular world?

Luke 16:1-13

The parable of the Dishonest Manager is one of the most puzzling texts in the New Testament. The passage is rich with paradox. The steward is indeed corrupt, yet he seems to be both condemned and commended by his rich master and by Luke. The diverse possibilities of interpretations are frustrating. Is the message that the children of light should learn from the economy of their corrupt neighbors? Are we to make friends by the use of dishonest wealth? Do the ends justify the means? Or must we be honest with ordinary wealth so that we can be entrusted with true riches? An interesting aspect of this parable is that it features a manager of some status – in charge of considerable assets – who must consider his alternatives once his corruption is exposed. He isn’t strong enough to dig; he is too proud to beg; how can he earn acceptance in the homes he is accustomed to entering? Even the final line of the passage – “You cannot serve God and wealth” – which seems relatively clear, is a paradox. Does this mean we are not meant to enjoy material possessions? Or does this address the difficulty of not letting our possessions be a barrier between God and us?

  • How does the relationship between God and wealth work in your own life? Do you prefer to keep them in separate compartments in your mind? Can you reconcile the wealth of the world with the riches of faith? How does the stewardship of wealth affect your church?
  • Can you recognize the corrupt steward anywhere in current financial news? Shady Wall Street practices? Insider trading? Do we both condemn and commend such practices? What lessons can we learn from corrupt stewards in the contemporary world? Can we make use of the techniques of corrupt stewards for godly purposes?

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Christopher Sikkema


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